After a long-ass day cooking for other people, the last thing I want to do is cook for myself. A solid half of my shifts I don’t end up eating because I’m tired, I don’t want to cook anymore, and slapping together a crappy meal for myself feels like a waste of time when I mostly want to get the fuck out of there. But late night dining options in Minneapolis are often lacking. Yeah, there’s diners, taquerias, pizza shops, and typical bar food for post-10pm noshing, and I’m definitely not knocking the stupid-tasty late-night options, but sometimes more than a midnight sandwich, I want a damn good meal.
And sometimes you get the best of both worlds, and sometimes that’s a burger.
I got off work around 10 on Friday and headed straight to Madeleine’s for a beer before biking to Minneapolis’ poppingest restaurant corridor, South Nicollet. Home to Blackbird, Kyatchi, Hola Arepa, Ramen Kazama–its newest entry, and of course, Revival, Nicollet Avenue is leading the wave of chef-driven comfort food.
Chef-owner Landon Schoenefeld loves fucking with the traditional, cheffing things up at Haute Dish by twisting cuisine into chimeric concoctions that are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, like his take Tater Tot Hot Dish and General Tso Sweetbreads. He’s actually behind a bunch of burgers around town from stints at many, many restaurants over the years. I’ve already covered the Haute Dish burger, his outstanding take on a California style. At Nighthawks, opened spring of this year, Schoenefeld takes an approach perpendicular to that of Haute Dish, using advanced technique and months of research to craft excellent consistent versions of standard diner fare.
Madeleine got a single patty and I got a double ($10 and $15, respectively). It comes with potato salad or coleslaw, or you can upgrade to french fries for $2…which I did!
At my request, we got seats at the kitchen bar, overlooking their diner-style open kitchen because even after a long day of it, I still love cooking so much I have to watch other people do it, and I really wanted to see the magic technique behind this burger. Conventional wisdom dictates that smashing a patty is strictly verboten because it squeezes the fat out, losing that all-important juiciness. But smashing a patty maximizes contact with a griddle to attain an excellent fucking sear. BUT at Nighthawks, we watched the cook masterfully smash the patty within seconds of contact with the griddle, guaranteeing an imperial sear without moisture loss because the fat hasn’t had a chance to melt yet. After a couple of minutes, she flipped the patty, but absolutely did not smash again because at that point the now-liquid fat would squeeze out. I’ve heard about this method, but it was a pleasure to observe.
I don’t know if I enjoy actual burger geekery itself as much as I enjoy geeking out over burgers. And I don’t actually know if there’s a difference.
The patty didn’t have as ungodly of a sear as its older brother at Haute Dish, but it was as supremely seared as you get by conventional methods. It was well-seasoned, damn near verging on being oversalted, with a very strong black pepper flavor. Smashed burgers naturally end up on the more done side of medium-well, but what was missing in pink juiciness was more than made up for in retained fat and a fucked up amount of cheese. American cheese enveloped each patty in goopiness that rolled off onto the griddle for a touch of literal grilled cheesiness around the edges. Topped with freshly grilled red onions, giving it a sweet just-fried-enough outside with a still-firm crispy center. Pickles–acid, tasty, wonderful, and thankfully not too sweet paired with the onions. I’m never going to stop talking about how fantastic pickles are, and they make–and their absence breaks–a damn good burger. And a very tasty burger sauce, featuring all of the standard burger toppings blendered along with–according to my sources–a bit of bun and patty. It’s saucy, tangy, and what else would you want on a burger but more burger? The bun was a perfect squishy and it went by mostly unnoticed, just how I like.
You know when there’s, like, two overcooked fries in your McDonald’s fry sleeve, and they’re crispier and browner and have a deeper flavor? Nighthawks managed to capture that fry and figured out how to make a full order of them. They’re glorious and well-seasoned, and oh so crispy.
Double-patty American Cheese burgers are a hot trend, with David Chang claiming it’s the only way to do it, there’s enough of them in the Twin Cities to do a burger crawl (and they missed a few), and it’s reached the point where places are actually trying not to make them. It makes a great burger without too much fuss, though getting fussy with ’em pays off, like at Nighthawks. I’ll admit that overanalyzing burgers as I do leaves me wanting more variety and I seek out burgers that don’t just pile on the American, but it’s a treat to go back and eat damn good straight-up cheeseburger that’s trying really hard to be a damn good straight-up cheeseburger.